SCQ Rating: 77%
Some musicians thrive on focus, whether engaging in a thematic concept, geographical muse or sonic approach. Mike O’Neill, who rose to nation-wide acclaim on account of his no-frills band The Inbreds two decades ago, probably isn’t one of those musicians. Recorded through an unnumbered series of apartments and studios with collaborators who blur the line between fellow songwriters (Charles Austin, Laura Peek) and visiting friends (Trailer Park Boys creator Mike Clattenburg), Wild Lines hardly sounds disciplined in a certain focus. Yet it’s just as plausible that O’Neill’s songwriting succeeds in the absence of strict regimen, as this flock of whip-smart tunes seems to benefit from the spontaneous and unexpected.
The former CanCon star pushes into the electric strum of “This Is Who I Am” with unintended purpose; this opener features many hallmarks that defined independent radio rock in the 90s – a decade already stepping back into the pastiche spotlight – while its unapologetic title deals exclusively with the song’s narrative. “Colin” and “Wasted Time” continue the throwback surge of mixing O’Neill’s earnest, Lennon-esque vocals and light discord into clean, pretension-less pop structures. Variety dominates the sequencing, dropping ambling bubble-gum pop melodies (“Henry”), layered mid-tempo jams (“Calgary”), and the occasional dose of English folk (“She’s Good”). Almost every song on Wild Lines seems to reference the Beatles’ catalog in some respect, whether it’s due to O’Neill’s classic approach to pop songs or the overall sunny disposition of these tunes.
When it comes to the post-grunge revival that’s sprouting up over the carcass of the 80s, day by day, Mike O’Neill should be considered a Canadian elder statesman. And with Wild Lines, his first album in eight years, he couldn’t have picked a better time to reclaim the scene.